Saturday, October 13, 2012
Feds Move Closer to Suing Google Over Search
Over the past few years, enough complaints have come Google’s way claiming it games its search results to rank competitors lower that the company felt compelled to post a FAQ, “Facts about Google and Competition.” In response to its self-posed question “Does Google have a monopoly on search?”, the company says: “No. On the Internet, competition is one click away.”
For federal regulators, that answer might not be good enough anymore.
According to reports late Friday, the feds are getting ready to pull the trigger on an antitrust lawsuit against Google for allegedly using its massive scale to squash competition and keep online advertising prices high.
Based on a wide-reaching investigation that began more than a year ago, Federal Trade Commission staff are readying to recommend that a suit be brought against the search giant, according to the New York Times. If the commission decides to bring a case, it would be the largest anti-trust suit brought by the FTC since a similar legal case took on Microsoft in the late ‘90s. Microsoft lost, but the ultimate resolution dragged on for years. Google did not immediately respond to a Wired inquiry seeking a statement on the FTC’s possible move.
As with Microsoft, the Google investigation has poked into virtually every part of Google’s business. The gist is that as Google has expanded beyond its core search business, into things like online shopping and smartphones, it is using its muscle to favor Google products over competitors. So rather than showing results from say, another shopping engine or restaurant recommendation service, it favors Google’s own versions of those products. In the mobile world, the FTC is looking at whether handset makers have the freedom to pick and choose the Google products they want if they choose to use Google’s free Android mobile operating system.
Even if the final recommendation of FTC staff is to sue Google, that doesn’t mean it will necessarily happen. Bringing a formal suit requires three of five FTC commissioners to vote in support of legal action. In September, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said a decision on whether to sue would be made by the end of the year. In Europe, a similar antitrust investigation into Google is already moving forward as European regulators look to lessen Google’s grip on the Internet.
In a settlement recently pitched to European Union antitrust regulators Google reportedly proposed to clearly brand all links to Google services returned in a search to mark them as distinct from “neutral” search results. The Texas attorney general’s office has also been investigating Google’s search practices for the past two years.
Google has long denied any anti-competitive practices, and for its part had this to say: “We are happy to answer any questions that regulators have about our business.” The FTC did not immediately respond to a Wired message seeking comment.
If some websites have problems with how they turn up in Google’s search rankings, web users themselves don’t seem to find Google’s results wanting. Last month in the U.S., a full two-thirds of all web searches were made using Google, with Microsoft’s Bing a very distant second and Yahoo coming in third, according to comScore. With numbers like that, it’s easy to see why other sites that don’t fare well on Google would claim that a low ranking equals internet invisibility. But it’s hard to believe that any settlement the company reaches in the event of FTC action could do much to harm its own rank as the world’s de facto default search engine.
more @ http://www.wired.com/business/2012/10/google-gets-closer-to-a-court-date/